Sunday, July 19, 2009

My transportation wishlist

I've been very curious lately about what exactly is on California's "wishlist" for federal stimulus money. I haven't located the exact requests of this list, but I have read some mixed reviews about the requests. Much of the money requested seems to be for road repair, which seems like a fair concern. After all, one of the specific items on the wishlist is the repair of the notoriously unsafe Vasco Road, which is located near me. I lost a friend to that road about two years ago, an event that has always seemed so hideously unjust to me. It certainly can't be denied that there are very poor roads in this state. On the other hand, roads seem like a very short-term use for these funds. For a state that's trying so hard to aim for more advanced transportation infrastructure projects, I find it odd that we didn't focus more on rail-related projects in our request.

Speaking of rail, I also read that the high-speed rail line has hit another speed bump. Apparently the wording was done rather carelessly and may now require more environmental studies before the line can begin implementation and construction. The problem, as I read, is that those studies have already been completed and most opposition has subsided. Re-opening these opportunities for studies and surveying may mean millions of wasted dollars - not to mention possible roadblocks as people are able to revisit old issues or groups that have since been placated.

This rail line continues to irk me. First of all, I do not believe that California is invested enough in the line to pay the attention to it that it so obviously deserves. California's focus on road repair seems to me merely another method of remaining an autocentric state. Secondly, I worry that without the state's full attention and with the continuation of careless mistakes, funding will only go to waste. If the line's construction is put off for too long, the cost of building will certainly go up, most likely forcing up the costs of tickets. And if ridership is subsequently low, all kinds of disasters might ensue.

This post is partly me worrying - I had my first ulcer at age 18, which should tell you I worry a lot - and partly my own wonderings about what I would put on my "wishlist" to Congress. Imagine I am the state of California. I am rich in natural resources, economic growth, and frustratingly uncompromising legislators.

Speaking for the state of California, I present the following wishlist:

- Funding for the high-speed rail, with strings attached. Strict deadlines, oversight, and an agreed upon maximum ticket price. Yeah that would upset the state, but I think California needs a babysitter right now.

- Some money for road repair, but none for freeway expansion. I have two words for that: triple convergence. Expanding the freeway won't relieve congestion, so don't bother.

- L.A. just got voted worst congested in the state for what, the 20th year in a row? Something like that? The Bay Area was number 5 or 6 on the list too, I believe. I WISH we could get more money for regional transportation methods in both of those areas. Perhaps some money for better bus lines, improvement of existing rail lines (um hello Blue Line, most dangerous rail line in the country) and something to hurry along the ones that are currently delayed (yes Expo line, I'm looking at you). Something that could help BART with ridership would be helpful as well. Anything we could do to help out Metrolink with ticket costs?

- Less money for things like fancy bike and pedestrian bridges, and more money devoted to the connectivity of bike and pedestrian paths and trails. (Speaking of bikes, could we just throw out the concept of bike lockers? They're just a really inefficient use of space and I am not a fan.)

- I'd really like some requirements for affordable housing in transit oriented developments. Those things are expensive, and they generally stick out in areas that clearly haven't received any government funding for years. Investment in transit means that there will be subsequent investment by developers in regions that become transit hubs or stops, which means we should be prepared for major displacement if we don't try to prevent it before it happens.

- Can we get some money for those environmental projects that seem outrageous at first? Like I mentioned before, I think this state is lacking a great deal of creativity and imagination. I say we get some development in rail cars or buses that use solar power for temperature control, like the new Prius uses. Surely we could invest in solar technology in transportation. And aside from transportation, I'd like to see some investment in Energy From Waste (EFW) plants, and perhaps some geothermal projects. Give the scientists some money to play with; hopefully at least one of them will come down with a stroke of genius.

Anything other thoughts? What else should California have asked for from the big daddy U.S.A?

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